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Rosie Kay

Rosie Kay, one of the world’s leading choreographers, presents her extraordinary dance work, 5 SOLDIERS, at the Theatre Royal Bath on Sunday 14th May. 

Photo credit: Tim Cross

Renowned for her strong, intelligent work that tackles interesting subjects, Rosie’s thrilling choreographic vision tells the story of five men and women serving on the frontline. Full of honesty and with powerful physicality and moments of humour, 5 SOLDIERS is inspired by input from serving and former soldiers.

 

Here Rosie Kay tells us how her career as a dancer started, how it felt to choreograph the live Handover Ceremony for the Commonwealth Games and what audiences can expect from her dance work, 5 SOLDIERS.

What inspired you to start dancing?

 

I really danced from when I could walk! I always remember dancing - I remember dancing with the waves on holiday, and then I begged my mum to let me go to ballet classes when I was three. I found a really good school and I just loved training - I would travel across Devon on three buses to get to classes almost every night. I didn’t realise you could do it as a job - it was only in my teens when I started to think that I could give it a go as a profession, but everyone warned me how hard it would be. I discovered contemporary dance and then auditioned, and I got into London Contemporary Dance School.

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Photo credit: Light Attitude

5 SOLDIERS - Photo by Tim Cross.jpg

Photo credit: Tim Cross

How did it feel to choreograph the live Handover Ceremony for the Commonwealth Games watched by over 1 billion people worldwide?

 

I don’t think I’ve ever had more nerves in my life! That show depended on 700+ amazing dancers all being in exactly the right place at exactly the right second, and a huge technical team where about a million things could go wrong! The show was choreographed to the second, so if one thing went out of time, the whole thing went out of synch. We shot and broadcast it live, which I think is the longest live single-shot broadcast ever. The ceremony was going on later than planned in the Gold Coast, so for every minute delayed, we were at risk of losing our satellite link up! I also had to keep 700+ warm and prepared, who were all waiting in the slightly cold April day about to perform. But it was all worth it! The joy and warmth that bursts out the screens to you - I think it painted Birmingham as an extremely welcoming place.

With such an illustrious career roster, do you have a moment or highlight of your work so far that you have enjoyed the most?

 

I love the way my job can take me into really different worlds. For example, with 5 SOLDIERS I embedded with an infantry battalion to see how they train and prepare for war. With Romeo + Juliet I spent time with West Midlands Police and working with schools to look at gangs and knife crime. But for me, one of the best moments is when you are in the studio, and you do your first ever full-run of a new show. Nobody else is there yet, it feels so intimate and special. Dance is a really magical art form - nothing exists beforehand - just a vision or an idea, but through collaboration and through often lots of hard work, a language is created, roles become real and a story is told. I love that moment. I also still really enjoy performing. I thought I’d given up 8 years ago, but I retrained through Covid, accepting the limitations of my older, injured body, and returned to the stage with a solo show in 2021. That was a real career highlight, because I made my first (and probably last) show about my own life.

"That show depended on 700+ amazing dancers all being in exactly the right place at exactly the right second, and a huge technical team where about a million things could go wrong!"

Production photographs by Manuel Harlan

What was your inspiration for 5 SOLDIERS?

 

I suffered a serious injury on stage back at the peak of my performing career and was told I’d not dance again and it would take about a year for me to walk normally. Following the operation, I think the general anaesthetic had a strong effect on me, and I dreamt I was lying on a desert battlefield, with bombs and flamethrowers etc, and I realised my leg had been blown off. It made me think really profoundly about my body, injury and my will to keep dancing and keep performing. It was the time of the Iraq war, and when I went downstairs to make a coffee, the faces of young soldiers killed came up on the TV screen. I stood there and wondered how on earth do you train and prepare a body for war? Injury can be a big part of a dance career, but we don’t risk our lives. Maybe I, as a choreographer, could get inside the heads and boots of soldiers and actually feel what it might be like to do this. I had long been interested in war and creativity - war art, war photography, the war poetry of WW1, but the medium of a soldier’s job is their body. Perhaps I could bring a unique perspective into something that honestly, I found quite terrifying and huge.

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Photo credit: Primes Lens

How did it feel to stage 5 SOLDIERS in Army barracks and drill halls across England and to have it live streamed internationally by The Army?

 

It was a very long journey, working with the Army. At first, all my research opportunities were a bit under the radar and unofficial. Then things started to change after the show was revised and received 5 star reviews. I began working at first with Army Welfare Services - showing the show could help in preparation and recovery for soldiers and their families before and after deployment. Then in 2016, we did a sellout tour of Scotland and the Army in Scotland really got behind it. That meant that the Army in England really noticed what we were doing.  Touring to bases was really interesting - because I’d just had a baby I had to take my baby on tour with me as I was breastfeeding. That gave a few armed guards a bit of a shock at the entrance to the base! But performing in these military spaces was really interesting, and I loved the mix of military and civilian audiences - we always had extremely interesting post show talks. Live streaming it with The Space/BBC and the British Army was very exciting. A bit like the Commonwealth Games, there is a huge technical team that supports these things happening. What I loved was the humour military people showed while watching it.

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Photo credit: Primes Lens

5 SOLDIERS has achieved such strong success and longevity. What do you think is its longstanding appeal?

 

That’s a question I ask myself often! And in a way, I have never bored of the show myself, because if I did, I would not do it justice. I always find new depth, new stories and new details to explore. The work was highly and acutely observed, so the detail is correct, and you can feel its authenticity. However, the subject matter - that the body is the frontline - is a universal message. Despite all our technologies, the actual site of all war is on the human body itself. And because of that universal message I think the show has started to transcend time and become a seminal piece about a complex and often divisive topic - warfare.

 

What would you like audiences to take away from watching 5 SOLDIERS?

 

With my work, I like to look at complex ideas, but in an accessible way. I don’t point the finger or try to lecture anyone - I do my work, and I invite the audience to interpret and analyse what’s going on themselves. A soldier sat in the audience will get a totally different experience than a civilian - that is the beauty of dance and non-verbal communication! I suppose overall, I want to make people feel what it’s like to be a human going through extraordinary experiences.

Do you think a parallel can be drawn between the discipline required by military personnel and dance professionals to excel? 

 

It is incredible how much we can understand each other’s worlds. In history the big military parades started around the same time as the invention of ballet, in the French courts of King Louis XIV, so they do share an origin in presenting well-disciplined bodies and patterns to the King, in order to show strength or to entertain.

 

Soldiers and dancers learn to use their bodies for their jobs, so that they can rely on muscle memory, this requires daily rigour, discipline and repetition. Dancers and soldiers also both risk injury, so being fit, strong and looking after your body is paramount. In a way, we are also used to taking complex orders as well as interpreting ideas and making our own decisions. We work in small teams, we have to trust one another, and our jobs involve being away from home, tours and deployments. Of course, though, we have very different outcomes in our professions. 

What will you be working on next with your new dance company K2CO?

 

I’m doing an experimental work this Autumn with 5 older professional performers, which will be great fun. Then next year I am looking at both developing an entirely new work that explores the body and technology and revising a couple of my other works. The cast of 5 SOLDIERS really are quite extraordinary, and so I’d love to get back into the studio and do some more work with them.

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5 SOLDIERS tours to the Theatre Royal Bath on Sunday 14th May with performances at 3pm and 8pm. To book tickets contact the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 or book online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk

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